Do they produce leaders? Not anymore!

With all pretensions of a public school education, the neavou riche and the old families too stick to an ever-constant Indian prototype. The students are all driven by the predominant middle class aspirations of IIT/IMM/competitive education. The new generation Marwari/Punjabi parents might opt for a family business. Even here the mental horizon is just modest. Not to produce rebels, a Shelley or a Byron but only too statusquoist types. This is not certainly the established wisdom for the more famous Public Schools.

With annual fees for boarders ranging from Rs.2 lakhs to Rs.7 lakhs, these new schools are becoming big business with some top New Delhi politicians making much about their education enterprises. So, when Amar Singh made noises about the denial of admission to his daughters into a New Delhi outfit, all hell broke lose! Some of the new fangled names can be so misleading, Sanskriti, Mallalya Aditi (the Beer Baron, yes, you are right?) and what have you. Education in India for this generation is at any rate is no more what we all assume to be. It is all about hell-bent cut-throat competition, from small towns to metros, somehow, if you have the  muscle then you can set a premium on your own sense of morality which can taken on some beating. Yes, the professional education providers really constitute what can constitute a modern mafia in democratic India. Come to Tamil Nadu to find about the headcount!

It is rather the old fashioned, rather far from the high decibel name-droppers, the 150 year old Lawrence Schools and some of their modest cousins still provide the really left-over sort of public school education. Those who are (as we are!)enamored of the great Public Schools of the types of Eton, Harrow and other UK greats, must have read about what made the British Public Schools so great.

All you have to do is to refer to G.M.Trevelyan’s immensely popular history, British Social History, to know what made the Public Schools so special. Of course the still more popular saying: The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton must have fired the imagination of the older generations.

All this seems to be past glories. Today, the British Public Schools, yes, they seem to be special in a sort of way, given the British social stratification, of the top, the middle and the not so middle classes of Britain, no more a world power but nevertheless a country clinging strong to its past memories and also the world’s rich and famous still prefer to send their children to a more exclusive, privileged, highly expensive sort of education. We are not sure of the realities in the British high class schools today. But we know for certain the older families, the royal family or families from the old colonies still seek such an exclusive education. This the Public Schools provide.

But what about the Indian counterparts? There was this article recently in an Indian magazine, on the Doon (Public) School. Located in a 70 acre campus, with a mere 70 year history, it had educated the children of the Delhi bureaucrats and the more prominent names like Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had elevated the school to some kinky sort of reputation! The Gandhis didn’t make for a non-controversial reputation; rather the reverse is the nagging thought. Rajiv did become the Prime Minister at a young age but he didn’t turn out to be the Younger Pitt, as many dearly hoped for. Nor Sanjay Gandhi proved any point except to emerge as a thug, as the article mentions. So, in this league also comes the name of Natwar Singh’s son. The harsh truth is that some of the products of Doon are the spoilt brats who indulge in their parents advantages of politics and bureaucracy, get jobs with MNCs or arms dealers or set up export  units that do just in plain illegal but highly -connected deals of the one that had cost Natwar Singh’s job!

So, the question again comes back: are the Public Schools today serve any useful purpose other than providing a cover for grooming plain anti-social training? A hard question for a serious education issue!

Now, the Doon is today what it was yesterday! Today, it is not old families or politically powerful families that throng its portals. It is the new rich, the rather middling level, highly aspirational parents, the petrol bunk operators, real estate dealers, the medical doctor or a police or IAS official who seek to improve their social status by sending their wards to an expensive and also a known name, however its reputation is affected by the sort of scandals that have hit the names mentioned here!

On a more serious note, let us also recall some of the best known and highly reputed names like the two Lawrence Schools, one in the 700 odd acres of beautiful campus nestling in the Nilgiris at Lovedale and the other in Shanawer in Shimla. There are others like Mayo in Ajmer.In about 100 or odd such schools are providing class education, that is some well-thought out teaching and hostel life amid pleasant surroundings.

But the still more serious question is: what is the special content of the school’s curriculum? Nothing! They all seem to cater to the CBSE syllabus and exam and most of the products nowadays also aspire to join the mainstream middle class aspirations of joining the IIMs or the IITS and go for high paying jobs only!

No aristocracy whatever here! Neither the Gandhi youngsters (Rajiv and Sanjay) went on to establish any such parameters. They married in a way and they also didn’t set high goals for themselves. Poor men, they did what they could and their lives ended in great tragedies. It is a great pity.

The Public Schools in UK, France (Lycees), Germany (Gymnasiums) or in other older Western European societies drew their inspirations and models from ancient Greece and Rome. They are supposed to produce leaders of society. Yes, they at least some of the known UK schools did produce a long line of such names. But in India we had a different and a difficult history. First we were a colony. There were maharajas. So, the children of British soldiers and the maharajas, Indian civil servants made a peculiarly upper class mix of otherwise an anti-national and anti-patriotic attitude. This attitude prevailed in most Indian Public Schools.

So, even in such a nice and incomparably beautiful school like Lawrence Lovedale,it was the mix of the Indian zamindars,maharajas and the British soldier children(orphans in fact to start with) and then the Indian merchant class who made up the Lawrence social mix. It was the mixing of or mixing up of the old Anglo Indian and the lowly British children added glamour to the Indians to send their children to Lovedale.

Later this trend was picked by the older Indian families; say the Syrian Christian families of Kerala and then the odd one or two from other states that went to make up the Public School students. It is a terrible thought (!) to seek a link with these Public Schools with the more conservative Santiniketan model, as the article in question seeks to link the founders of the Doon School. There can’t be any such link, given the entirely patriotic origins of the Tagore enterprise!

Now, the charge of non-patriotism and even an anti-national attitude of the older Indian Public Schools can’t be wished away. One of the great tasks that still remains to be done by the Union Education Ministry is to give the Public Schools, directly under its charge, a new philosophy and a new set of priorities and an independent curriculum that wont stress the state exams but give marks for personality development and higher aspirations on the part of the children for seeking an independent career, say, entrepreneurship or building new models of development projects.

The new breed of the newer types of public schools, established by the Goenkas, Birlas, Mahindras and others of course seek to imitate the British Public Schools. But alas! They don’t realize the task is much more difficult than managing their industrial empires! First, you need a vision for such a Public School idea and ideals. Second, you need dedication of a rare kind. To put it bluntly, how to produce a Thomas Arnold or a son like Mathew Arnold who defined culture for a generation, as in his” Culture and Anarchy”?

Today, our Public Schools seem to turn out just varied types of philistines, right? Yes, when you have a new breed of Barbarians, as we have now, the new generation criminal type politicians or their leaders who don’t believe in any high ideals other than feathering their nests, what other description might fit other than what the great Arnold gave? So, in a society that is fast becoming a hunting ground for Rajya Sabha nominations by bribes (what other names suit?), when you can buy power through such degraded political means and when you can distort justice, indulge in such outrages like the Jessica murder and also when you have a public which is yet to be inspired by a leadership like Gandhi and Nehru, what you have got is a mere” populace”(another Arnold coinage).

So, the goal of the Public Schools is “sweetness and light”. For this you need a new and highly elevated education vision. Then, you need articulation of an institutional model. Please don’t bring in the new barbarians, the suddenly rich corporates. They are the new barbarians and they would remain so as long as they don’t aspire for any non-material values. Don’t go for producing the same vulgar materialism-driven businessmen type students from your otherwise highly expensive, commercialized secondary schools with all pretentious names. Every major city or small town boasts of such schools.

The point is that it is society that makes its schools too! As Trevelyan says in his history, the British Public Schools came out of the peculiar history of Britain. Now, we can only improve our Public Schools on to a more exclusive higher ideal. Then, the society must value such ideals. Otherwise, we would be replicating the already hybrid schooling in the name of Public School education.

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